The Sexy 60s

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By The style statements are sneaking back as Retro ? not to mention the splash of colour and the dash to foreign locations. By Dinesh Raheja and Jitendra Kothari
  • Published 17.06.05

Snowy-haired Durga Khote dispensed this piece of immortal wisdom: “Soorat sau nu, kapda hazaar nu, zevar laakh nu?aur nakhra karod nu!” She was trying to transform her frumpy granddaughter Sadhana in Love in Simla (1960). Soon it seemed as if all heroines of the 60s took this piece of advice to heart.

Hindi film actresses had always relied on glamour but the 60s mod squad simply redefined what it meant to be chic. Clamouring for attention were Sadhana, Asha Parekh, Saira Banu, Babita and Sharmila Tagore. Sadhana’s widely popular fringe launched a thousand snips and young girls began to take serious note of the fashions depicted in films. Actresses in foot-high bouffants, out-there eyeliner, multi-hued lipsticks and tourniquet-tight salwar kameezes spawned look-alikes all over the country. So, if glamour was your cup of tea, here was the entire teapot.

The girls of the 60s perfected the art of artifice and adopted affectations. In the song, Chhalke teri aankhon se, from Aarzoo (1965), Sadhana actually fluttered her eyelashes to the beat of the music. In Dus Lakh (1967), Babita perfected the moue and the limp-wristed rebuff to the hero. And when Sharmila arched her neck gracefully and said, “Don’t be silly,” in the song, Aasmaan se aaya farishta, from An Evening in Paris (1968), she became the chief exponent of style.

The popularity of this glossy posse of actresses had a context. By the 60s, a new middle class, an affluent elite and a large populace aspiring to belong to either of these two classes had emerged even in socialist India. At the same time, heroines no longer came via the stage or economically depressed backgrounds to the film industry. The 50s had provided the intermediary stage with heroines like Nargis, Vyjayanthimala and Nutan (offspring of prosperous actress mothers Jaddanbai, Vasundhara Devi and Shobana Samarth, respectively), who had studied in posh schools. This paved the way, in the 60s, for girls from middle class families to enter films. Actresses like Asha Parekh, Sadhana, Sharmila Tagore and Hema Malini, who came from privileged backgrounds, were thus able to portray the perkiness demanded of them by the frothy musical romances of the decade.

BBuffeted by these changes, even the senior heroines were coerced into glamourising themselves. From the rustic Dhanno of Gunga Jumna (1961), Vyjayanthimala blossomed into the fashion plate of Sangam (1964), and even did a cabaret to Main ka karoon Ram. Mala Sinha mysteriously dropped several pounds and emerged svelte in a skin-tight gown in Aankhen. Nanda dried her tears and turned into a memsahib in Jab Jab Phool Khile. Even the artlessly elegant Waheeda Rehman donned Western dresses for Baazi. Meena Kumari gave in to the eyeliner and stuffed herself into a tight salwar kameez in Chandan Ka Palna (1967), the year in which most of the hits starred the 60s brat pack of Saira Banu, Babita and Asha Parekh.

A factor that led to the advent of the glamour girls was the rapid march of colour films in the 60s. The sartorial limitations imposed by the black and white films were instantly tossed aside for Eastman cinematography demanded Eastman colours. However, colour bought in its wake a certain trivialisation in the issues that Hindi films explored. Many 60s films were high on surface gloss but low on subtext. They exploited the aspirational desires of the audience while maintaining a safe distance from ground realities and films seemed to exist within a hermetically sealed alternate reality.

Extracted from Indian Cinema: The Bollywood Saga by Dinesh Raheja and Jitendra Kothari; Lustre Press/ Roli Books; Rs 1,975


Call it the Sangam effect. Before this Raj Kapoor extravaganza with an extended honeymoon sequence shot in Switzerland became a through-the-roof blockbuster in 1964, it was the rare film like 1954’s Naaz (Ashok Kumar, Nalini Jaywant) that ventured out of India for a film shoot. Sangam opened the floodgates for a 60s trend that snowballed into a Swiss-style blizzard. Soon, Brindaban gardens and the chinars of Kashmir were not enough. And even modestly budgeted films like Night in London, Pyar Ka Sapna and Spy in Rome were eyeing foreign shores. Here’s remembering some of those exotic eye-fillers.

SANGAM (1964): Amidst the fun-filled sledding sequences in Switzerland between newly-weds Raj Kapoor and Vyjayanthimala, Kapoor captured the bitter reunion between Vyjayanthi and Rajendra Kumar with the magnificent Jungfrau waterfall in the background.

LOVE IN TOKYO (1966): A smash hit that paraded Asha Parekh in a kimono and introduced Indians to the word, Sayonara.

AMAN (1967): Pacifist-philosopher Bertrand Russell, no less, made an appearance in this Japan-based Rajendra Kumar-Saira Banu starrer that nixed nukes in a post-Hiroshima world.

AROUND THE WORLD (1967): Raj Kapoor attempted a modernday Phileas Fogg. Sidelight: Heroine Rajshree found her future husband, an American called Greg Chapman, while on a stopover in Hawaii.

JEWEL THIEF (1967): Dev Anand captured the mystique of remote Sikkim, then not a part of India.

AN EVENING IN PARIS (1968): Paris landmarks like Moulin Rouge stole the show from Shammi Kapoor cavorting with Sharmila.

AANKHEN (1968): After James Bond became an international phenomenon with Dr No (1963) Indian spy films like Farz (1967) tried to place the (gold)finger on the pulse of the audience. Aankhen, a Ramanand Sagar hit starring Dharmendra-Mala Sinha, also told a tale of international intrigue and subterfuge that took it to Hong Kong and Japan.